Does Accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Correlate with Animal Welfare Act Compliance?

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The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) promotes itself as the “gold standard” for animal welfare in zoos and aquariums; however, no objective evaluation of this claim has been performed. As the only statute providing protection to individual animals in the United States, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) also seeks to assure animal welfare at facilities exhibiting animals to the public. In this study, the incidences of AWA noncompliant items (NCIs) at AZA-accredited facilities were evaluated and compared to non-accredited facilities licensed as exhibitors by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Based on our analysis, non-accredited exhibitors had significantly more total NCIs than AZA-accredited facilities, and non-accredited facilities also had more NCIs related to improper veterinary care, animal husbandry, and record-keeping, but not with respect to personnel qualifications. Additionally, accreditation status and number of regulated species were significant predictors of the number of NCIs. This study revealed that AZA accreditation is correlated with improved compliance with the AWA and perhaps enhanced animal welfare.


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